By Ronald Gordon
After a terrifying storm and terrible sinkhole leaves Whit, farm hand and family man, with the arduous task of saving his dog Lucy from a pit, he ends up falling into the hole he managed to pull her out of. When you’re met with a life or death scenario, sometimes your mind will allow you to reflect on how you got there, and possibly how you could get out. And in Whit’s case, it takes a long period of reflection for that epiphany to come about.
Where The Heart Leads is a narrative-based game developed and published by Armature. To put it simply, it’s about a man being stuck in a sinkhole, both metaphorically and very literally. Alone, trapped, and fearing the worst, Whit sits down to look back on life and how it led to this moment in this system of caves, bringing you along on a tour through his memories of the years before this moment. In this, the game is reminiscent of a Telltale game, unspooling a story that you yourself piece together, rather than having you play through a predetermined story.
And it’s a heart-wrenching tale of a man wondering how he got where he is now, what lessons he learned and who he affected. It’s up to you to delve into Whit’s life and make the impactful connections he reminisces about in his current, dire scenario. The place where Whit finds himself is a strange place. Yet it allows him to look back on his past – not just mentally but in some cases physically. As Whit relives the days and years of his life, you get to see him actually move throughout the cave, traversing pathways that weren’t there before and reaching areas you haven’t even seen, as if this introspective look into Whit’s life serves not only as a distraction from his predicament but also a magical sort of solution to it.
I enjoyed the portrayal of the atmosphere in Where The Heart Leads, in that it feels still, quiet and peaceful, exactly how you might look back over your history and consider who you are. You interact with the people in Whit’s life – his parents, his brother Sege, his wife Rene, and many others – and get to experience its different, sometimes emotional, parts. Throughout his teen years, his early adulthood, and his coming old age which is moreso a forward look into what Whit’s situation could be in a much better outcome than what it seems to be, you make choices that can change his path as well as the paths of all the other people he cares for.
Depending on the outcome of each situation, you’ll collect notes and items that show how each has an impact both on the past and the present. In his teen years, you can choose to either push Sege to step up his grades and try to make something of himself, or to support his focus on art and his inner creativity. This either helps or hurts Whit’s relationship to Sege in the later years; the notes reflect that either Sege doesn’t talk to Whit as much anymore, or he’s doing something great with a recent art project and has been telling Whit what he’s up to.
The art style is simple and blocky; Whit’s character is the only model that’s fully formed and mobile. The rest of the character models you can interact with are still silhouettes, with little movement, as if you can’t remember all of the details of a certain event, just the vague fragments that made it a memory.
Not much music plays during the game, reinforcing the contemplative nature of Whit’s journey through his memories. In some sections, you’re either greeted by dead silence or the ambient noises of the scene. The game doesn’t need music to make things more dramatic or to make the player feel a certain emotion, because the scene itself is the embodiment of what Whit felt during that moment.
Where The Heart Leads is more of an experience than a game, and I value the experience it gave me. Not only was the premise of Whit reflecting on his past and trying to piece together his future interesting, I loved how everything felt like these moments weren’t just memories but important moments in Whit’s life. I’d suggest it to anyone who wants to witness the heart-warming, and in some cases heart-wrenching, tale of a man trying his best to find a way out of a sinkhole that’s as difficult to comprehend as it is to climb out of, just like most problems in life.
Bronx native Ronald Gordon is NYVGCC’s senior intern. Most recently, he became our first Rockstar Games intern, in partnership with the Red Dead and GTA creators.